Mud Puppies and Cow Pies
by Laura Minar Ganske
I was watering the flowers one morning when I noticed my 6-year-old daughter walking around, a new-found friend trailing behind her. It was Midnight, the black cat that helps us keep the mice at bay here on the farm. My little farm-girl had the sweetest smile when she turned around and bent down to give him a pat on the head. It made me wonder what will happen to their friendship once our new house is done and we move out of my childhood home.
Those feelings surround me here. Watching my son mow the lawn for Dad, just as I did when I was his age. Sharing the thrill as my daughters pick eggs – unless the duck is sitting on them. Then it is time to mark the calendar and watch for ducklings! Helping Grandpa and Grandma get the cows or pigs back in the fence so they don’t wander into town, like a pig did when I was a kid. Climbing the same crabapple tree that I did. That tree is really the perfect height for shorter legs. Playing under the shade of the tall spruce trees that border the east lawn. My Dad has affectionately nicknamed my daughters “the mud puppies” due to their love of creating with mud. Mud restaurants appear on every deck and bench, including the deck that my husband and I said our vows on. Running to get milk for our meals, except where I filled a bucket from the milk house, they run to the creamery and grab a bottle from their Uncle Mike. Sneaking into the parlor to watch their older cousins milk the cows. Running through sprinklers on the hot days, when the cold well water feels especially good. Grabbing a bunch of cilantro for supper or a handful of plantain (the wild herb, not the banana) from the lawn to ease the itch of bug bites. Walking around the patches of asparagus that have been let go so that we can have a bountiful harvest again next spring.
There are some big differences between my youth and my children’s experiences here, like wondering how late Dad will be in during harvest season. Late nights are almost a thing of the past, with the exception of a few rounds of hay baling during the warmer months. I remember recording each animal’s registration card, by drawing the black and white markings that made that animal unique for identification. Naming each calf, in particular a couple of my show calves, Luna and Spruce. The later was my 4-H and state award winner for milk production at 115 lbs of milk a day! Proud days back then, but our tone has changed so much. Now our herd of 100% grass-fed cows average 32 lbs a day. Quite a difference in the quest for securing each cow’s health and the health of her calves.
My parents changed their focus from high production to healthy land, healthy animals and healthy people. They made it their life’s mission to educate future and current farmers on the practices that have served them and their charges well, hoping to hand down the ideals to anyone who wanted the information. I feel deep pride when I look over and see my kids weeding the garden with Mom and Dad. Him on one knee explaining what should go and what should stay. Her reminding them just how much water should go on each plant. The childlike look in his eye when the girls announce that there was another egg on the ducks nest. Mom’s encouragement to be patient as we watched the starter seeds this spring peak from their little beds. How many children have a Grandpa who will show excitement over a drying cow pie, and explain what the bugs are doing to it, and why it’s so crucial for healthy pasture? Or grow up knowing that their 35th great-grandfather was the King of Scotland, thanks to their Grandmother’s love for genealogy?
I’ve spent the last 3 and a half months watching the sunset over the old silos from my westward room. Our family of five is crowded here and we are trying to not completely take over my parent’s home. With my little brother’s wedding drawing near, it will be time for us to start packing to make room for traveling guests. Our house is almost done and while we are all excited to spread our wings again, part of me feels like clipping those wings, because the farm-girl in me really loves being here in the midst of all this history and beauty. I suppose it’s a good thing our move will be no more than a 10 minute bike ride away.
Laura Minar Ganske is the daughter of Florence and Dave Minar. She and her family are building a house on the northern edge of New Prague. They are living with Florence and Dave while their home is under construction.